I saw behind the mirror, you know…
It’s not polished metal. It’s a layer of glass, silver, and black background. The glass reflects, and everything behind it is there to assure that we don’t see the other side.
I saw behind the mirror.
In the space between wake and dream, where I was not entirely sure which was which, I danced between spectator and lucidity. When this happens, I had either taken delight or been fraught with nightmarish anticipation. Oft forgotten, these overlapping sections between conscious and subconscious rarely herald the tone of dreams to come.
But rather, I stood upon a peer attached to no discernible shore. In the sun, people surrounding me passing by, I remembered gulls overhead, perched upon the wooden supports, gazing down at the passers because these logs towered above our heads. I had family with me — not my own but I understood them to be, and they stood arranged like posing for a photograph, looking back at me.
All these faces were obscured to my memory. I felt a kind of contentment. Settled and eased for there was comfort in these things: the salty air, the sun, the companionship. I gazed up into the sky, a kaleidoscopic vista from horizon to horizon. I gazed upwards, dizzying myself against the clouds hanging above us all.
Crowds kept passing, and the waves gently rocked the wooden pier. I looked down for the fifth time and noticed that something was, perhaps, a little strange about my family. Finding myself trapped in a cycle of upwards gazing, I felt like falling, and each time I landed, looking back at those unclear faces, feeling as if something was changing. Time after time, something was different. A little thing: a look or the placement of a backpack over the wrong arm.
Again and again, I seemed to fall from one setting to the next, barely different from each other. Yet I began to spur the process, freeing myself from the illusion of autonomy, I took control. And rather than waking myself, I engaged in the cyclical journey through the sky. And eventually, I saw a seam in the sky. A fold or a crease. As if I were in a hall of mirrors, switching gaze from one to the next. Only each one reflected a different world, so it seemed.
And in a moment of lucid realization, I pulled myself from the image. Detached.
Neither on the pier nor my couch, I sat upon a char, comfortable, upright. And yet, though separated from the image that was my mind, I was compelled to stare. Eyes fixed, though straining in my body’s movements. All my reality, what was in front of and behind my eyes, it seemed to me, was this screen. A cinematic projection, where I could now see, in my periphery, the rows of seats in front of me.
Again and again, the screen tumbled through the sky, shifting view-planes and mirrors, seams across the screen, and the image flipped. Where now I could see more clearly, the separations between one family pose and the next. The changes in gulls, the differences in the peer itself. But as the screen angled toward the sky, and the seams filtered over the vision, I felt more disconnected. As if in the twisting, tumbling, I could turn my own head to follow the details.
Struggling against my own stagnant muscles, with my whole body if I had to, and through many attempts, I nearly resolved to give up. And then I should force myself awake on the couch to reposition the pillow once more. Though in an attempt to re-integrate myself into the screen, I resented how my body’s actions in the pier-dream only seemed to be my own.
What was tricking me into thinking it was I who was moving my neck into the sky, when my neck outside the peer dream, perhaps a real-er neck, was fixed in place? Who was moving, if I wasn’t? Where was the difference, I wondered, between moving my neck and thinking I was moving it.
And as if the last piece snapped into place, I realized that the muscles that I was trying to pull were the ones from the pier-dream. And a whole separate wash of sensation filtered through this new body I had, sitting in the theatre. I yanked my gaze away from the screen as if pulling out a plug by the cord. A rush of sound flooded out of my ears, like a burst — disconnected from the sounds and smells of the ocean and crowds.
These sounds were not echoing in my ears, no longer at least, and now, I could hear it from the direction of the screen as if all my senses were pouring in through the projection. Shaky of breath, I, perhaps one of the only to do so in human history, gazed behind me, to look at what was behind all of our heads.
And I saw it. Blue, against the vermillion backdrop of the velvet upholstery, the sheen of gold leaf, and earthen mahogany — the Mask-Wearer, standing calmly several rows back. I gazed at it, and it at me.
Amorphic clothes, either a suit or a jacket, shifting like smoke about it. Slim, bereft of feature. All things about it changed except for the wrinkly, bloated, pig-mask it wore over its face, whose eyes were black and shadowed behind it.
I was instructed to return my unyielding gaze to the projection upon the screen, though by no expression of command beyond a yearning within myself. But dislodged as I already was, I dismissed it as not being among my own thoughts. How easy it was now, to feel the difference between my own thoughts and those which colonized my autonomy.
The Mask-Wearer, lit in blue, out of place in this environment, took no action or made no movement, save for the craning of his head, as I made my caution escape. Watching me as I slipped out through the row of antique seats affixed to the floor sloping towards the vacant band pit. I scanned the exits lining against the wall. From one gaze there might be a hundred or there might be five. In this place, though it made a kind of sense, there did not seem to be much point in consistency.
Taking the first door I reached, it seemed to me that it was unimportant which I took.
I wondered if it was just my dreams upon the screen, or the whole of my waking hours. The styles of this place shifted, seeming vaguely similar, though passing by windows and mirrors and shelves and tables, things were placed together that should not have been. Books and shoes. Lamps and platters of fruit.
The windows did not display an outside, but to other hallways, which were not necessarily connected to each-other but sometimes they were. Second off by thick, warped glass, I could hear echoing sounds from the other side as if encased in a crystal decanter. Sometimes, doors in other corridors were left ajar, and in them I could see nothing but swirling shadows that hurt my eyes to look at. If my eyes were even mine.
But passing by mirrors, I saw myself. And this self looking back at me was both who I was and who I thought of myself. Some kind of collective photograph, like a hundred faces transparently layered upon themselves, showing universal traits. Only, my face was clear, and my identity was fragmented, unravelling, shifting as if some photographs were sliding in and out of place.
How does one capture an identity? Photograph a memory? These things are not flat. Vision is not flat. And yet everything I saw upon the screen yielded a visceral world that I had thought I might touch and feel.
All the while I was pursued by a sense of urgency. The Mask-Wearer was coming for me. This much I knew, as per the nagging orders to return to the seat in front of the screen. But I was also dodged by an unknown fear. There was something I knew about this place that I could not understand. As if I were reading a message encoded in a cypher I had forgotten, but could remember developing.
Like peering into the doors in other hallways, there was an incomparability between me and it. My self and the understanding I had. Had it always been there? This tension and awareness? Or was it this place? The space under the rug that was the universe? The black behind the silver behind the glass? This nothingness, so desperate to be filled that it occupied itself with my thoughts made real.
Winding through corners and staircases and slopes where tables and rugs had slid and crashed with their contents piling at the bottom — at last! I came upon a door ajar in my own hallway. I was compatible with this, beyond the door, and probably everything connected to my hallways. As if my section of the void belonged to me, and glimpses into others were accidental.
A thought crossed my mind, for I was moving ever further away from my body on the couch. And then another thought: was there ever a couch?
Beyond the door was a dark room. Like a warehouse, things stacked upon things. Jars and crates. I recognized nothing of it, and the contents were not clear to me either. Shadows shifted around the room as if an invisible light source pushed them.
Everything was clear. Everything was dark. I saw nothing, and yet knew a perfect map of every corner, edge, and splinter. Every spec of dust in the air was illuminated to me, as if dirty light were pouting in through a skylight overhead.
But there was an unsettling. A disruption in the airflow. Something was with me. Vision flittering in and out of dull, milky awareness, I ducked behind a box. Not clear to me if some unobservable light source shone on me. I kept away from the pathway through the crates and storage, tucked in-between two things covered in dust and cloth.
Not important what they were so much as the sound that came from the open space. Like great footsteps, but smacking against no floor. The hollow thump filled the room with each beat, becoming louder as my own breaths became stiller.
Wandering, whatever it was wandered. Uncertain where the steps were, and where they were going. I waited, neither afraid nor calm. And there I waited for an eternity, perhaps several, perhaps less. As if the walker were in another place, and I nearly heard the thumbing upon the ceiling, the thumping, echoing. Ebbing and flowing.
And then I realized, the thumping was coming from within the crate beside me. A druming, distant, echoing from across a vast expanse. Whatever was on the inside was larger than the exterior containments, held in a place that was even more vast. Perhaps a whole other world. Trapped, writhing and feral. It longed to escape but had abandoned reason and the ability to comprehend why it should.
Dare-I look inside? With whatever eyes I was using to see?
No. I slid back into the open, where the thumping grew quieter. I left the room through another door.
This chamber was long, the ceiling grand but not as high as it should have been. Doors upon the walls. Curtains hung, row upon row, draped from up high. Like ripples and waves, red reflected and shone from the draperies. It was comforting, like closing my eyes on a summer day, laying on the grass. The bright, pervasive redness of everything warmed me in a way I found familiar but could recall no exact instance. This room was comfort. This room was stillness and welcomeness.
And it was there too.
The Mask-Wearers’ body reflected blue light, where the rest was red. The Mask-Wearer was tense, cold, unforgiving, where the rest was wonder and joy. It stood in place, pig-mask shadows cast at the wrong angles, while the air in the room fluttered the curtains, at different rates in different places. Warm breezes. Cool breezes.
And the Mask-Wearer. Stillness.
I was afraid, but not. I was brave, but not. I wanted to act, but I needn’t. And I wouldn’t, beyond passing through. This was my place, but not my place to linger.
The Mask-Wearer was benign. But like a tumour, he presented a threat, an anxious possibility which seized what remained of my decaying imagination. For whatever was worth imagining was being consumed by the reality of this place, where the sheen of these transparent, silky sheets, threadbare in places, seemed to reflect light from a scene that was in another place. These sheets had been elsewhere, I thought, and had held on to an impression of what they had done when they were there. But like the screen and the sofa, and the pier, did they only ever think they were there? But been here the whole time?
Then their expressions of light and wind were a longing to experience something real.
And the Mask-Wearer stood in place, as he had, gazing upon me. Blue against the red. It watched me. Was it waiting? Merely following me? What did it wait for? Why did it watch? To whom would it report? From what was it keeping me from and to where was it corralling me?
I passed it, sure that it would not act in a way that would truly matter, nor truly affect me or what I did. My understanding of that was complete, somehow. Fragments of decoded memory shattered, and gazing upon their fragments like tea leaves, I could make out small truths…
And then I was back in the room with curtains. I had never left. Though I had been elsewhere at the same time, looking upon broken glass, shattered on a cold stone floor.
Why hadn’t I stayed there, I wondered? Why had I not looked up, to see from where the glass had fallen? Dislodged myself as I had from the screen, into a new place? Was the curtain room also a screen? I tried, using what I had learned from stimulating other bodies of mine, but could turn nowhere. If there was somewhere deeper to go, it was no place I was already or would be welcomed.
So said the shatters, in another set of eyes I possessed. How would I move that neck? Perhaps, I thought, it was less about movement. And more about realizing which set of eyes belonged to which sights. Which metaphors I conjured belonged to which realities?
The Mask-Wearer was gone.
I ran my hands against a silken layer of fabric, seeing lights dance across it, like hung linens on a line. My fingers felt the vibrations of voices. I could feel what they said. Who it was. But I had forgotten. I just knew that I had known.
Through the draped sheets, I made my way to a beckoning door and pushed it open.
Another hallway. Similar to the other.
And through a window in front of me, I saw another. Though in this hallway was a door ajar. And strange to me, I could see the inside of this one, in the way I hadn’t been able to, looking from out of my old corridor's windows.
The room, lit in dull grey, stacked with crates and jars for which I could sense almost every spec of dust. And then, a dull realization of an inability to act. Like my seat in the projector, I simply watched my other self glide into the room with the thumping box.
Gripped by sudden horrors, I ran to the glass, pounding my fist upon it. I screamed to get my own attention, already disappeared into the silent room. There was something in the box. There was something in the box. There was something in the box.
Should I open it to look?
A grand rupture swept over the glass, and a flood of grey ooze gushed from the cracked door. Neither fluid nor solid. Inky and opaque. It ate and it flooded. It consumed and covered. Neither gravity, reason, nor time contained it, flowing backward from without other rooms, doors once closed, burst open in a choir of terror.
Blandness nothing. Violent absence.
And another face of mine lost within it, while this thing from the box, dusty in colour, though without expression or feeling, pressed against the glass, filling and consuming everything in that hallway and everything it was attached to.
And then it was full of nothing. I was not staring at a hallway of anything, but a vast, empty, grey expanse.
Against the glass. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
I was in this place. Full, empty, consumed, floating, drifting. And nothing else existed in this grey world, this vast expanse, except this window and my hands upon it.
My comprehension. My understanding. As I felt myself slipping, lost in the viodlessness of this place. More and more fragments of understanding. Glossy but not glass now. Laid out in front of me, hands that were mine-but-not-mine rearranged the pieces.
Could I reassemble the Grecian vase to complete the salacious image? Sex, violence — discomforting, not because they were illustrated, but because they remind us of universal human truths that we insist are not.
Or was I able? Surely… I chose to reassemble. To take these fragments and create a mosaic of my own choosing. Do I take the code, and build cyphers anew and create new rules from forgotten memories?
In lacking any other awareness, what other choice did I have?
But these hands that were not mine — but mine. Though the decision to change the rules was mine, the rules created were theirs. I separated from eyes that were mine but not mine. I had learned the falsity of actions that I accepted because I didn’t need to act for myself. I caught myself, and I stopped it. If I would rearrange the rules, they would be on my terms. Not what others would convince me were mine.
And this place was teaching me how easy it was to fall back into these comforts. Comforts of letting someone else make my choices. What did they have to gain, I wondered, from having me believe their actions were mine?
Should a puppet believe the hand that tells them they have free will, if they cannot move without it?
Have you ever looked through a window in a brightly lit room, to a darkened scene outside? Perhaps, you’re in a grocery store, and you see a freight door that leads into the refrigerated area behind the milk cartons. Dimly lit. But you can faintly see the room on the other side of the glass.
But it is obscured by the features of the brightly lit room. This mirror of conflicting realities. Both rooms are true. It is a matter of choosing which one to see. Which reality do you wish to exist in?
Focus on those features, though you may carry some features with you. An incompatibility of rooms, made real by a paradox of truths and duality.
In the end, reality becomes a matter of choice. Dismissal of contradictions. Make a choice.
And you are there.
I looked up from my glass-shard tea leaves. A tangible invention of my mind, materialized in this place of empty space, giving life to an abstract fragment of thought. A metaphor made real, because emptiness longed for content, even if it isn't real.
I was there, upon the small cluster of broken glass, looking back into my own eyes. I looked up and saw a short-ceilinged room, stretching in all directions. Like two immense blocks of black marble. I existed in the space between, white light pouring in from all sides.
Though dimly lit was everything within. Distance was immense. Perhaps as infinite as infinity is comprehensible.
Looking up from where the glass had fallen, I saw that the whole roof was mirrored, and these particular shards fell out of a small impact crater not far above.
If the glass was a singular thought and feeling, for which was decoding my understanding of this place, then the whole of the ceiling was so much greater. A whole wealth of understanding, encoded, flawless, and inaccessible. Incompatible. I had never conceived that I had ever known so much, nor that there was so much to know. How many lifetimes of knowledge had gathered here? Past lives? Consecutive, layered alternate choices which may and do lead any of us to a knowledge of all things?
From which versions of myself was I learning? What else had I forgotten?
I heard myself gasp. A panic that erupted not from my lungs but from elsewhere. The pitter-patter of bare feet slapping against a smooth surface. In the reflection above, I saw myself running away. Myself/not-myself ran onward, glancing back in panic though my own face was obscured.
Had I left what body-shape I carried with me from my waking hours? From my dream on the pier? And now it ran away with the base level humanity reserved for survival-intended terror? What was I so afraid of to flee?
I craned my neck up, and edged to the side of the impact where the glass had fallen. And my reflection showed the blue pig-mask. Hollow, empty eye-sockets looked back at me. Though my hands were mine. And the fragments on the ground showed my familiar eyes.
Myself-in-the-mirror was confused, trapped by a sinister illusion.
“Wait,” I said, to bring myself back, but from my mouth the words echoed so loud that within an instant they had grown to a rumble so immense that could have never been made by my voice. I ran after myself, huffing and puffing, skin slapping against the stone, echoing from the mirror.
My echoing voice joined in a chorus of amplified sound. Like a rhythmic thunder that sounded from floor to ceiling, ceiling to floor like gunshots. Like echoing bellows of a massive drum playing into a needlessly vast expanse. I saw myself in the ceiling reach a wall. Panicked, trapped, I searched for a handle to a door that was there, but was not.
Thump. Thump. Thump
I was trapped. The ceiling in the mirror coming down, these two giant blocks collapsing, unsettled from the massive thunder of what once was my voice. The ceiling above remained, but the ceiling’s mirror fell upwards, shaken off, into myself in the mirror. Piece by piece it went black as shards cracked, fell, and shattered against the floor.
My self in the mirror called out for help, but this voice was swarmed by the overwhelming rumble of collapse. I watched, standing, perfectly still and unable to do anything. I watched above, shrapnel fell upon my self. Splitting flesh, rending bone, separating me. Dividing me. Cutting me into sections with ruthless grace. Precision-less care. My self sobbing, bleeding. And then the whole of the mirror above cracked and collapsed inward.
And then it was black nothing, the sound having disappeared with the last fragments of mirror. A blank block, hovering over another. Filled with a great sadness, I looked into the distant light. A slight flicker.
I chose one world over this one. And I was there.
A film projector. Like I was led here. My eyes came into focus and I sat up. I had always been here. I simply chose to be in this place where I had always been, instead of another place I had always been. But had the other places existed? What was the difference betwixt reality and imagination… in a place like this, what did it matter?
Did I really go so far as to choose the world I existed in at any time? Or was I being led through upon a trolly?
I looked out upon the cinema. It was my cinema. The same one in which I had sat every time. In the rows of seats, several from the front and slightly offset, was a silhouette. Indiscernible, though certain to belong me. To what extent did I create this place? This place was mine, incompatible with anyone else. Red. Comfortable. I belonged here.
How could I not have made it? Neither prison nor retreat. Necessity. Prerequisite. A room for dreaming and living.
But strange… the projector displayed nothing I could see. Like images layered with curdled milk. It hurt to look at. It repulsed me. I couldn’t see it. It viewed in a language my eyes did not understand, and my eyes were none so tolerant of what was foreign.
A few rows behind the enwrapped silhouette was the Mask-Wearer. Blue. Standing perfectly still, and for the first time, facing away from me. Though… briefly. It looked up at me and all the signaling and impulses to return to my original theatre disappeared.
I was out of place, yes. But I could not go back. There was no back to return to. I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been, with nowhere to go.
I turned around and it was there. Not directly behind me, but held its arm out, and beckoned me toward a comfortable arm chair facing the wall, with a slide-projector on a table beside it. The film projector droned on beside me.
It was revolting. The mask. The colour. Its coat and clothes which seemed to melt into something else. The mask and the colour remained unchanged. It was revolting not because of any harm it intended, but rather this was simply how we had been programmed. This was how we had been constructed. Conditioned. Rooted in our very existance of what we were to eachother. It was not evil, but my mind, what was left of it, was only capable of conceiving it by making it evil.
And as I approached, I gathered that I could fathom it only as well as it really knew what I was or what I was doing in turn. Joint mysteries that we neither had the capacity nor opportunity nor desire to inquire. We simply were as we were to our selves as we were to one-another.
It had a role like a player, though hidden to me as my role was. Agency though it might have had, it had a role to fulfil regardless. And my agency? A question of semantics. Though I understood that what it considered will was grossly different from what I thought of freedom. My role was nearly upon me, and I was worth little more than the mulch of my memories.
And my choice was what to leave behind. A final line before exiting, passing beyond the mirrored curtains. Beyond the silver screen and into the black. Where I would exist on the other side of the reflection, to serve as a reminder for the self who would replace me.
Don’t worry. This is who you are.